Originally Posted: May 23, 2012
Last Updated: Nov 9, 2020
The college admission process may leave some students feeling like an unlucky contestant on The Bachelor—courted by what seemed like the perfect match (your dream school), only to be sent home alone, bawling in the back seat of a limo.
College rejection letters are the last thing anyone wants to see in their mailbox. Like those jilted contestants, you might be asking yourself, “What happened?” or worse, “What did I do wrong?” Even though tuition deposits were due May 1, you’re still pining over what you feel like you’ve lost. Parents are proudly wearing college sweatshirts and slapping stickers on family cars, but it just makes you cringe. So how can you move on and get excited about college again? As a former rejected student myself, here’s my advice.
View the college process from a new angle
First, see the process for what it is. The sausage grinder we call college admission is not a meritocracy. In fact, as with sausage, you might not want to see what goes into an acceptance or rejection decision. Colleges have agendas they must serve before an application is even opened: spots reserved for athletes, wealthy donors, legacies, and underserved geographic/racial/ethnic groups. The factors determining whether you receive a thick or thin envelope are often beyond your control and unrelated to your qualifications. To adapt a favorite line of The Bachelor, “It’s them, not you.”
It matters less than you think
Second, it doesn’t matter as much as you might think. After graduating from “elite” undergraduate and law schools and spending years in corporate America, I’ve learned that the name on a diploma is not a strong indicator of future success. Studies by The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and others undermine the presumed correlation between school status and job placement, salary level, and career advancement. You’ll be entering a workforce in which the answer to the question “What can you do?” carries more weight than “Where did you go?” Graduating from an “elite” college doesn’t guarantee you can do anything. College major, grades, internships, work ethic, and passion: those are the factors most relevant to career success. The good news is that unlike the outcome of the college admission process, these are in your control.
Develop a thick skin for the real world
Third, welcome to the real world. High school is a very small world, and the college admission process only further narrows your perspective. What happens next is more important than anything that happened in high school. Don’t waste time. There is a lot of important work to be done in college and big questions that need answers, such as: What are your life goals? How will college help you accomplish them? What skills do you need? We live in a complex world; college is the perfect time for you to make sense of and find your place in it. This can be done anywhere, as long as you arrive on campus with an open, inquiring mind.
You are more than this rejection letter
Fourth, believe in yourself. Handing over your self-esteem to anonymous admission officers is a cost too high for any college. We all face rejection at some point. College rejection presents the opportunity to learn valuable coping skills early on and define success on your own terms. Doing so will serve you better than any degree.
Just like they can’t turn the limo around on The Bachelor, you can’t turn around that rejection letter, so stop looking back. Give yourself a fresh start. If you take my advice, there’s a good chance your dream school will someday realize you were the one who got away.
There’s still time to apply to schools and get that acceptance letter. Use our College Search tool!